Ask Amy: Co-worker feels bullied by ‘bad chemistry’

March 24

DEAR AMY: I work in an office of five women, one being the boss. We are all in our late 30s early 40s. We work for a small company. The HR department is the CEO’s son.

One girl has worked here for five years, and since day one she has had it in for me. She is “scent sensitive” and has a medical letter saying that she cannot be around scents. We have made the office scent free, but every couple of months she complains with a written letter to the boss that I (and only I), must have worn too much perfume to work because she has a headache.

She has moved cubicles so she does not have to deal with anyone (the UPS man, etc.). She sits way in the back of the office by herself. She does not talk to anyone unless spoken to and has no social skills.

The whole office is afraid of her because they fear a lawsuit. For instance, she blamed my “chemistry” when I had to talk to her about work last Friday at 3 p.m. because she said she got a headache from lotion I used at 5 a.m. (at home). When she complains only about me, I feel bullied.

Changing jobs is not an option because frankly everything is perfect except for her (we all agree). Do you think I am being bullied? What should I do? -- My Office Problem

DEAR PROBLEM: The most effective way to deal with this is not to assume you are being bullied, but to perhaps let someone higher up the chain in your company draw an accurate conclusion based on knowledge of your co-worker’s and your behavior.

It is obvious that you two have bad chemistry, but so far her response is to basically report you, and your response is to express your frustration to others.

You should minimize any physical contact with her by communicating through phone or e-mail. Be respectful and professional. Document any of her behavior that you feel is aggressive toward you.

The next time this flares up, you should seek a meeting with the same person at your office who receives her complaints and reports. Be low key: “I want you to know that I have done everything possible to minimize friction with my co-worker, and yet I feel singled out when she has symptoms.”

DEAR AMY: Why do we spend the first six years trying to convince our children that the world revolves around them and the next 12 years trying to convince them that it doesn’t?

My wife and I always preached planning for the future, setting goals and working toward them, being mature enough to delay gratification, etc.

Then, this year, I came down with a serious illness that forced me to confront my own mortality. All of the advice meant to comfort someone in my situation centered around living in the moment, not looking too far ahead and viewing each day as a gift.

The world can be a strange place. Throw a little of your wisdom my way and explain a couple of the ironies of life to me, will you? -- Russ

DEAR RUSS: The world can in fact be a strange place. Human wisdom is not much of a match for life’s ironies.

My wisdom on how to cope best through extremely challenging times boils down to one word: balance.

I hope you are able to let some of that gratification you delayed over the years envelop you now. The secret gift of illness is how it can teach us to recognize and appreciate small moments of grace. I hope you experience these moments in abundance.

DEAR AMY: “Upset Mom” sought guidance about how to deal with her son, who was being bullied.

You and the expert you quoted said she was “projecting.” If a bigger kid pushed my kid, I would call the police. That’s violent — and wrong. -- Disappointed Reader

DEAR DISAPPOINTED: Helping your child have confidence and teaching him strategies to cope with aggression will be more useful, long term, than involving the police to deal with a schoolyard bully. But I do agree that this is a potentially serious situation.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2014 by the Chicago Tribune

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